January 31, 2021
OPINION: Māua ko Moko, Moko and me: The first day of the rest of my life
As I write this, it’s less than 24 hours since my moko kauwae came to life under the hands of my Ngāti Māhanga whanaunga Simon Te Wheoro. How do I feel? As I felt in the weeks prior and am feeling right now, calm. At peace. In te reo, I’d say, “Kua tau te mauri.” I feel composed, serene, relaxed.
In my last Waatea column, I talked about what was going through my mind in recent months as the call to mau moko kauwae (bear a chin moko) became increasingly persistent.
Your responses were heartfelt and encouraging, so I wanted to tell you what was going through my mind as I lay on the bench in Simon’s studio at Whāingaroa, my ears filled with the buzzing of his tattoo gun.
I was in something of a meditative state. I thought of all the people, now gone, who got me to this stage of my life. My parents, both gone far too young, grandparents, my great-grandparents and all those who came before them. As they crowded into my memory, a few tears rolled down my face into my hair.
I also thought of the living: the cousins, aunties, uncles and friends who encouraged me to mau moko kauwae (wear moko).
I hear your question: He nui te mamae? Was it painful? It was uncomfortable rather than painful. Application felt like a sewing needle being drawn lightly across your skin, which is, of course, pretty much what it is. That prickling sensation was strongest near my lips, but it wore off within minutes.
That said, mamae (pain) thresholds vary between people. I’ve always been a kiri tuna: thick-skinned, like a tuna (eel), and tolerant of pain.
My moko took 90 minutes, and I was, of course, the last person in the room to see her. As I sat up and looked in the mirror, I was uncharacteristically lost for words.
My eyes traced the new elements on my face: the centre line down the chin representing my mauri, the force that gives each of us essence and vitality.
Halfway down the centre line, the mangōpare (hammerhead shark), a symbol of determination and strength.
The lines at the side representing my Māhanga whakapapa and my whānau, both living and dead, present at that very moment and not present.
The notches of niho taniwha, representing taniwha guardians. Moko kauwae is once more alive in our whānau.
My husband was watching, grinning broadly. When I posted a picture to Facebook, he was first to comment: “World: Behold my fabulous wahine!” That, and all the positive comments that followed, were heart-warming.
Later that day, one of my mates asked me if “congratulations” was the appropriate response when someone takes moko kauwae. He pātai pai tērā: good question. People have been saying either “ātaahua” (beautiful) or “congratulations”.
If we take the latter to mean “good wishes on a special occasion” then yes, it’s entirely appropriate. It was a special occasion and I feel I have arrived somewhere, though I’m not sure I yet have the words to describe what “somewhere” is.
Arrived, perhaps, at a pivotal reclamation of my identity as wahine Māori. Arrived at the beginning of the rest of my life.
As I write, something I read has popped into my thoughts. It’s a quote from Netana Whakaari of Tūhoe, who had a mataora, or full-face moko. In 1921, he told bilingual Pākehā journalist James Cowan that a moko was a man’s most durable possession.
Whakaari said, “You may lose your most valuable property through misfortune in various ways; you may lose your house, your patu pounamu, your wife, and other treasures “ you may be robbed of all your most prized possessions. But of your moko you cannot be deprived except by death; it will be your ornament and your companion until your last day.”
Moko is my companion and comforter for the rest of my life, and she will endure after I return to Papatūānuku.
Radio Waatea and its board would like to advise that the opinions posted are those of Atakohu Middleton and not the views of Radio Waatea, its management or its board.
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